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Pedroia: Star has big backer

By Nick Cafardo
September 1, 2008
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Former Red Sox manager Joe Morgan once called Ozzie Guillen the "smartest player in the game." And now, some 20 years later, Guillen is gushing over Boston's little second baseman, Dustin Pedroia.

Though Guillen's methods are a tad different than Walpole Joe's, both tend to speak their minds and tell it like it is. There is no gray area about anything they do or say. Guillen is not above uttering something shocking to make his point. When I recently asked White Sox general manager Ken Williams why he travels with his team so much, he said, "I have a manager who is a little eccentric."

In good times, Guillen is fun to be around. The White Sox, who won the 2005 World Series under Guillen, are trying to get back to the postseason, battling the Twins for the American League Central crown and the Red Sox, among others, in the wild-card race.

The fun he had with Pedroia over the weekend added to the entertainment of the three-game series, which concluded yesterday with Chicago's 4-2 victory. Pedroia, who reached base the first 11 times in the series, was referred to as a "jockey" by Guillen following Boston's 8-2 win Saturday night. Guillen said of Pedroia, whom he ordered walked intentionally in the eighth inning of that game, "I never thought I'd walk a jockey. I must be the worst manager ever in the history of baseball right now, walking a guy that just came from being on top of Big Brown to beat the White Sox."

Earlier in the series he said of Pedroia, "Right now, he's on a roll. I get opportunities to walk him to face Big Papi, I will do it. This guy right now is on fire. No matter what you throw, he's going to get it."

Pedroia went 4 for 4 Friday and Saturday and 1 for 4 yesterday.

Guillen was relieved to finally get Pedroia out a few times yesterday, but not without a few tense moments. The biggest drama unfolded in the ninth, with Boston trailing, 4-2, when Pedroia came up with two on and two out to face Chicago closer Bobby Jenks. When pinch runner Coco Crisp stole second base to put two in scoring position with those two outs and first base open, Guillen elected to pitch to Pedroia because, "I didn't want to put the go-ahead run on base."

Jenks got Pedroia to pop to left fielder Carlos Quentin to end the game.

"About time we got the guy out," said Guillen. "This kid had an unbelievable weekend. He puts you under a lot of pressure. He's the type of player that keeps coming and coming. You don't want to see this kid right now with the go-ahead run on base and he's at the plate. It's a good thing we made a good pitch and found a way to get him out."

Pedroia, who stroked a single in the first for his 183d hit, tying Del Pratt's team record for hits in a season by a second baseman set in 1922, also stole his 15th and 16th bases. Batting cleanup the last two games, Pedroia was serenaded throughout the weekend with chants of "MVP! MVP!" Pedroia acknowledged he felt a little squeamish about the adulation and tried to block it out. He was, however, mad at himself for not capitalizing on the chance to tie the game or even win it.

"[Jenks] threw me a slider. It was down. I popped it up off the end of my bat. I'm trying to get a hit. I'm not trying to get out, you know? He just made a good pitch," Pedroia said. "We fought back and all we could ask for was a chance to be there. We couldn't get that big hit. We had an opportunity to win and I couldn't make it happen. Hopefully, I get that chance again."

When Pedroia, who leads the AL in hitting at .326, made his first out of the series with a tapper back to the mound in the third inning, Guillen asked for the ball and held it out for Pedroia motioning like he wanted the All-Star second baseman's autograph. He then gestured to Pedroia again as Pedroia took the field before putting the ball in his back pocket. Eventually, Guillen flipped the ball to a kid in the stands.

"I have fun with him," said Guillen. "I'm a big Pedroia fan. I love the way he plays. If 90 percent of the players played the way he plays, I would pay for a ticket to watch baseball. It's not all home runs and power pitching. The way he plays, this kid, that's the way people should be playing every day. I admire him because of his size. He's got a bigger heart than anybody in this league."

Guillen was asked if he saw any resemblance to his own style as a player.

"I wasn't smarter than him," he said. "And didn't have the ability he has. He has the ability to hit 15-20 home runs. I don't think I hit that many in my career [he hit 28 homers in 16 seasons]. The only thing that kept me in the big leagues is the way I prepared for the game. It's just fun to watch people play like that. Baseball needs players like this."

Guillen said Pedroia is a rare breed.

"You ask [Terry] Francona about watching this kid every day and he probably thinks more of him than I think," he said. "I've watched him over nine games and he's unbelievable."

Guillen said Pedroia does give it back to him, but "he's a pretty intense ballplayer. He's a hard-working guy. I tried to research his career and everybody tells me there are few players who work as hard as he does."

Asked about Guillen calling for the ball after Pedroia's first out of the series, the second baseman said, "I started laughing. He's good for the game. He has a lot of fun and he keeps his team loose, but he wants to win and he wants his players to play hard for him."

During this series Guillen engaged Pedroia during batting practice. Asked about it, Pedroia quipped, "I couldn't understand what he was saying."

Guillen takes his White Sox into Cleveland tonight against an Indians team that had won 10 straight before getting swept at home over the weekend by Seattle. He leaves knowing his team could have its hands full if it faces Boston in the playoffs.

"Believe me, they have people who can run. People who can catch the ball. And they have pitching," said Guillen.

"To me they have the best leadoff hitter in the game [in Jacoby Ellsbury]. The Indians have [Grady] Sizemore and the Tigers [Curtis] Granderson. I think this kid is going to be a real leadoff hitter for a long time. He's going to be a good ballplayer. I hope we do face them. I'll take my chances. I think we play them well. Late in the games we haven't pitched well, but even in Chicago we had good games against them."

Asked why he thought Guillen liked him so much, Pedroia said, "He's a baseball guy. Hopefully he thinks I play the game the right way and he respects that."

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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